By Katherine Murtha
Mireille Cronin-Mather had a question.
The Executive Director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development – a 20-year-old nonprofit with 30 corporate partners and 10 sites worldwide – wondered how her organization could tell its story.
FSD sends teams of volunteers to sites around the world, where over short periods they train community members to run successful and financially sustainable organizations. Five years after these volunteer teams have come and gone, 79% of programs are still running. FSD credits this success to strong leaders within the communities.
Highlighting its asset-based, community-driven approach jars with the more commonly told narrative of international development organizations that solve problems for people in need. And that message had not been tested with a new potential donor pool: impact investors.
So on Thursday night, nine passionate alumni of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business got to work in FSD’s San Francisco office. The two-hour brainstorm and pitch session surfaced ideas for how FSD should make its case to donors from the social impact investing field.
The ideation session was made possible by Haas’ Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership. The Center’s Director of Alumni Engagement, Cathy Garza, facilitated the session.
A diverse group of alums brought expertise in consulting, finance, and marketing. One alumna whose work in Asia included microfinance and impact investing generated strategies for targeting FSD’s message to social impact investors.
During the two hour period, the Haas volunteers ideated, then worked in pairs to select the top recommendations to pitch to FSD representatives. Representing FSD were executive director Cronin-Mather, former Asia Foundation VP and current FSD director Dick Fuller, and FSD’s board chair, Haas MBA ’05 Dina Winder.
Part of the reason Foundation for Sustainable Development sought the partnership with the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership is that FSD wants to expand to more sites in Asia and Africa. FSD pinpointed social impact investing as a potential funding source for scaling up. With its fantastic track record of project sustainability, FSD just needed help communicating about its measurable impact.
Some of the Haas alumni recommendations included narrowing the message, setting sights higher in terms of fundraising goals, creating a visualization of its model to present to investors and donors, and tailoring messaging to the individuals that FSD approaches.
Looking to create partnerships, stating and proving FSDs comparative advantage, and evidence-based guarantees were just a few of the ideas the alumni volunteers pitched that captured FSD’s interest.
Talking with the volunteers lent clarity on what is important for impact investors to hear, Cronin-Mather said. These ideas helped FSD focus its strategy. After the session, FSD’s board members hoped to keep in touch with the volunteers, exchanging contact information and planning to follow up.
The Haas volunteers said they were looking forward to the next session of Solutions Lab, too. One alumnus, who works in consulting, said while he usually stays quiet during meetings with professional clients, it was nice to present his ideas to a client who really took in and listened to his ideas.
This brainstorming session was the second of three pilot Solutions Lab sessions organized by the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at Haas. The Center plans to organize another set of client sessions in the fall. For more information, see the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership’s website and blog.